As we fully re-engage with the business world after some holiday time with family and friends, here are a few questions to help get the brain cycles churning:
What business are you in today?
How does that differ from the business you were in one year ago today?
In 2011, what will customers and prospects demand from your company that wasn't required in 2010?
As you wrap that third question around the first two, what business will you be in at this time next year?
How much responsibility do you have for driving innovation within your organization?
What sources of innovation will you bring to bear in 2011 to ensure that you can continue to deliver not only what your customers and prospects demand, but also what they want?
Are those sources of innovation the same as they were one year ago? Two years ago? Five years ago?
If they are, can you really expect to be able to compete in a world where the future is arriving faster than it ever has before?
And speaking of indispensable sources of competitive advantage, suppose your CEO asked you to name the type of technology that is causing the most disruption and driving the most innovation in the business world today: what would your answer be?
According to a fascinating column in Monday's Wall Street Journal, the answer is one that might shock you: video games. As in, "How Videogames Are Changing the Economy":
"This fall, the Chinese National University of Defense Technology announced that it had created the world's fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-1A, which clocks in at 2.5 petaflops (or 2,500 trillion operations) per second," the column says. "This is the shape of the world to come—but not in the way you might think.
"Powering the Tianhe-1A are some three million processing cores from Nvidia, the Silicon Valley company that has sold hundreds of millions of graphics chips for videogames. That's right—every time someone fires up a videogame like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, the state of the art in technology advances. Hug a geek today."
Former hedge-fund manager Andy Kessler argues that the world of entertainment—the realms of fantasy, shoot-'em-ups, souped-up machines and stuff that simply isn't real—has displaced the military as the prime mover behind finding and funding the techie stuff that will fundamentally and sometimes dramatically change how we live, learn, play—and do business.
"Fifty years ago, President Eisenhower was worried enough to declare that 'We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.' No need to worry anymore. That game (pardon the pun) is over: Welcome to the entertainment-industrial complex.
"Consider the Apple iPhone, often touted as the tech symbol of our era. It's actually more evolutionary than revolutionary. Much of its technology—color LCD displays, low power usage, precision manufacturing—was perfected for hand-held video games like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, which sold in the tens of millions. Think about how much more productively workers are now able to communicate because of some silly games."
Now, I'm not suggesting that CIOs convert big swaths of their IT teams to full-time gamers; quite the opposite. Rather, the point is that in a world that is changing profoundly and rapidly, none of us can rely on the same-old same-old sources of new ideas, new perspectives, and new models.
Good grief: if video games are now driving global innovation and changing the ways that tens of millions of workers engage with the world, is your company in step with that megashift, trailing closely behind it, or totally unaware of it?
Is this just a detail question--"Are video games changing the world, or aren't they?"—or is there a much more fundamental dynamic at play here: how do you and your team think about and pursue innovation? What do you look for, and where do you look for it?
How are those ideas regarded within your organization—are there metrics for gauging the impact of new ideas, flexibility for giving them a fair shot, or laughter and derision for the goofballs who think that anyone will ever give up their trusted (translation: old) tools and give this new-fangled stuff a try?
As Kessler writes, "It's all about productivity. Last week, kids of all ages dropped everything to plug a $150 device called Kinect into their Microsoft Xbox 360 game consoles. Five million sold in the last two months. Kinect, which uses algorithms to recognize faces and gestures and respond to voice commands, allows Xbox players to use only their own movements, no controllers or button pushes needed.
"Sure, there are still some algorithms developed for, say, F-16 pilots' fire control. But without gaming, this technology would be expensive, one-off stuff that never sees much use. Much as keyboards and mice and fast graphics have driven corporate productivity for 40 years—killing carbon paper and Correcto Type—the next decades will be driven by tools that can harness voices and gestures."
Kessler's column is terrific, and even if you don't agree with all of his conclusions, it will get you thinking about what is changing, why it's changing, and what impact that's likely to have on your company and the way you work and interact with customers and prospects.
And it'll surely make you think in different ways about the questions that opened up this column, particularly this one: What sources of innovation will you bring to bear in 2011 to ensure that you can continue to deliver not only what your customers and prospects demand, but also what they want?
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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